“Top” 10 Democracy Realities in 2014

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This is the second of a two part series. Like part 1, “top” is in parenthesis to acknowledge the relative nature of the selections. There is no presumption that this is the definitive list. Readers will, no doubt, have their own ideas.

The lens used to determine both lists were what were impediments/possibilities for We the People to have genuine opportunities to have their voices heard and ability to shape decisions impacting the world around them.

Overall, 2014 saw a surge in participation of people seeking to build power for just and peaceful change. The quest to build mass movements linked issues, strategies and people in ways unseen for many years.

1.    Protests against police brutality
“Black Lives Matter” not only became a refrain of street protestors in 2014, but a movement sparked in response to the killings of blacks in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland and many other communities. Participants are racially and age diverse – with some police officers among the growing ranks. Issues extend beyond issue of police mistreatment of people of color to militarization of police forces, disproportionate imprisonment of blacks, and institutional racism throughout society. Demands are equally expansive – from local to national, from political to cultural, from short- to long-term.

This growing movement has forced the mainstream culture to begin facing issues of race and prejudice as they relate to power and privilege. In doing so, it offers the opportunity for mass awareness and solidarity. Any progress in understanding and meaningful dialogue also strategically makes it more difficult for the power elite to use race as a divide and conquer strategy to maintain illegitimate power and authority.

2.    Movement to end corporate personhood and money as speech
The Move to Amend movement to end the inane constitutional doctrines asserting corporations are “persons” and money equals “free speech” continues to grow from its inception is 2010 following the Citizen United vs FEC Supreme Court decision.

More people in more places educated, advocated and organized in their communities for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to achieve these duel objectives.  Fueling the movement were the McCutcheon vs FEC and the Burwell vs Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions. The innumerable local, state and federal examples of growing corporate power and corruption associated with money in elections also contributed to a surge in awareness and attraction to this solution.

Many communities organized for passage of city council resolutions. Each and every of the two dozen communities that organized ballot initiatives were successful with most of the citizen driven ballot measures winning with landslide margins. That these these victories took place during the same elections that saw Republicans make gains at the federal and many state levels is evidence of the trans-partisan appeal of these concerns.

3.    Growing environmental movement
The state of New York’s ban on fracking may have been the most tangible victory in response to organized citizen pressure, although no doubt the science and economics of gas drilling were also factors. Resistance to fracking grows both in the U.S. and Europe.  Resistance included marches, rallies, forums, lobbying, civil disobedience and Community Bill of Rights initiatives.

The climate march in New York City drew hundreds of thousands of people. The Keystone pipeline continues to be delayed due in part to growing popular pressure (the fact that major Obama supporter Warren Buffett owns railroads that could transport the oil rather that pipelines was also a consideration).

The Vermont legislature passed a mandatory labeling bill for all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Voters in Jackson county, Oregon and Maui county, Hawaii banned GMO crops. Voters in Oregon came within an eyelash of passing a statewide ballot measure on GMOs – only losing because of massive political campaign spending by the pro GMO food corporations.

4.    Exposing the truth of money creation
Two of the fundamental sources of financial power of banking corporations worldwide are (1) most people believe a nation’s money is created by government, and (2) most money in a nation is actually created by private financial institutions, including private central banks.

So long as financial institutions control the issuance of money – whether by a private central bank (i.e. the misnamed Federal Reserve in the US) or by banking corporations (when they create money out of thin air as debt when they issue loans), financial institutions will not only possess the ultimate economic power in a society but the ultimate political power, since economic profits are translated to political power via lobbying and campaign contributions/investments.

More people worldwide are shedding the myth and understanding the reality of actual money creation – a major step toward the democratization of our money. Leading the way in 2014 was Britain.

Bank of England officials admitted in March that banks don’t loan out pre-existing deposits, they simply create it out of this air.  Martin Wolf, the chief economics writer for the Financial Times (the Wall Street Journal of England) wrote an article in April “Strip private banks of their power to create money.” And the U.K Parliament debated money creation in November – for the first time in 170 years. All of this was in part the result of the ongoing education, advocacy and organizing of the pro democratization of money group, Positive Money.

5.    Alternatives to dollar
The U.S. Empire hasn’t just been military. It’s been economic. The bomb and dollar operate hand-in-hand to maintain control and thwart democracy. There’s growing resistance to not simply U.S. military installations worldwide, but also to US-dominated World Bank and IMF policies, as well as to the US dollar as the world’s “reserve currency” – meaning nation’s must have dollars to purchase oil (the “petrodollar”) or conduct trade. This is changing.

The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations announced plans to launch their own rival development bank to the IMF and World Bank. Russia is setting up its own SWIFT banking transaction system. Nations began trading with one another in their own currencies. This movement is led by China and Russia, with the later willing to sell oil for Rubles and Yuans. England, Canada and other countries also began to accept non-dollar payments with other nations.

Breaking away from the dollar is a key ingredient for nations to achieve national monetary sovereignty.

6.    Global resistance to corporate trade deals
Opposition to the proposed U.S.-Asian Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and U.S.-European Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) were global. Whenever and wherever negotiators and their corporate “advisors” met behind closed doors (where it should be acknowledged labor, indigenous, consumer, and environmental representatives were not invited), people were in the streets, lobbing their respective national elected representatives and educating the general public.

The message was clear and direct:  these “trade” agreements are in actually about global rule which, if enacted, would circumvent democratically passed laws and regulations on labor, environmental, consumer, health, the internet and financial controls. Fast Track (which would have allowed the President to ram these measures through Congress) was at least temporarily derailed from a vote.

7.    Increased revelations of spying and surveillance
The continued revelation of documents by Edward Snowden, Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) and others detailing US domestic and international snooping of citizens en mass using the sweeping pretext of “terrorism” provided strengthened resolve to US citizens to take action to protect privacy and basic civil liberties and human rights under the U.S. Constitution. Actions calling for fundamental change at the legislative, executive, bureaucratic and judicial levels are all essential requirements for anything approaching a real democracy.

Snowden’s story received further attention when the documentary Citizenfour was released in the fall. He was honored in December with the Right Livelihood Award, an international award to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.”

8.    Technology
The flip side of technology as a tool of spying, surveillance and suppression is the way technology can be used for mass education, awareness and mobilization.

As “mainstream” media in all its forms becomes more corporatized, the Internet has become a more important source for alternative information and analysis. This made the nationwide struggle to maintain net neutrality all the more important in 2014.

Pictures and videos documenting police brutality as it happened from mobile phones sparked mass reactions. Twitter was used to mobilize mass actions, be they in the U.S. against police brutality or in Hong Kong for democracy, in an instant.

9.    Local alternatives / sustainability
The more local the institution, the better chance people have to define it.

The last few years have seen a significant increase in the forms and numbers of local “micro” alternatives to large national or transnational “macro” political and economic institutions.

The rise of local independent businesses, local food production and distribution, local renewable energy, community internet broadband, community money (in both electronic and paper versions) sustainable housing, and decentralized transportation are among the many localized ways people are building democracy from the ground up.

10.    Increasing disgust with US politicians and Supreme Court
A majority of U.S. residents feel public officials don’t represent their interests, given the massive disconnect between what the public desires on issue after issue and existing public policy. A national Rasmussen Reports survey in 2014 found that an all-time high 53 percent of all Americans believe that neither major political party “represents the American people,” while 65% of Americans are dissatisfied “with the U.S. system of government and its effectiveness,” according to a 2014 Gallop poll – also an all time high.

Public views on the Supreme Court weren’t much better. Just 35% in a 2014 poll gave the court a positive job performance rating and a strong majority believes that Justices are influenced more by their own personal beliefs and political leanings than by a strict legal analysis. A huge majority, 74%, believes there should be a fixed term of 18 years for Justices.

This growing awareness that our government is broken because the system is fixed is a very positive sign for achieving real democracy. It reflects that the U.S. “democracy myth” that keeps people on the sidelines, believing all is good and that others should make decisions for them is evaporating.

We have to take charge if we want real democracy, self-governance or self-determination. It won’t happen by magic or physics, only by intentional, deliberate and genuinely inclusive engagement with others.

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Cleveland Heights residents launch Time Bank

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http://www.heightsobserver.org/read/2014/07/31/cleveland-heights-residents-launch-time-bank

Residents of Cleveland Heights are launching an alternative service exchange system, called a Time Bank.

Time Banks place value on human support services that the current dominant economy de-emphasizes. Providing such services strengthens the community fabric.

Participants earn “time credits” or “hours” when they perform needed services for other participants. Credits or hours are electronically “banked” for spending on services from other participants. All time is valued equally.

John Clark, one of the Heights residents helping launch the local service exchange system, believes a Cleveland Heights Time Bank can contribute to meeting the needs of the city and its residents, affirming people’s existing skills and talents, helping rethink to create alternative monetary systems and, most importantly, supporting each other by building community. He first learned about Time Banks when visiting a sustainably oriented community in Missouri in 2010.

“Money is a tool for facilitating exchange,” Clark said. “Time Banks are another way for facilitating exchanges. My hope is that we can facilitate relationships and interdependence on one another. We rely on each other. Together, we can support one another.”

More than 300 Time Banks exist in 40 states across the country, with hundreds more in 34 other countries. A Cleveland Heights Time Bank would join similar systems in Kent, Cleveland and Akron in Northeast Ohio. Leah Davis, coordinator of the Akron Time Bank and staff member of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee, spoke about the Akron program in Cleveland Heights earlier this year. That marked the start of the local effort.

The Cleveland Heights Time Bank is just beginning. Several preliminary meetings have been held. The system’s infrastructure has been established. The Heights branch now has access to the hOurworld software system, to log time credits and debits.

Clark believes the Time Bank can be useful to everyone in the area: “Even those who put in a lot of time in the dominant economic system still find time to help in building their community. A Time Bank is a way to keep track of and acknowledge the time we already give and to focus our time in ways that the community values as a whole. It gives a sense of gratitude. It symbolizes the service and time we give one another. It rewards everyone who contributes.”

There is no cost to join the Time Bank. For more information, e-mail chtimebank@googlegroups.com.

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Greg Coleridge is director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee and Cleveland Heights resident.